By Chris Jennings, DU Web Editor
Another cold front is bearing down on much of the Mid-South, bringing hopes of a significant mallard migration into the Mississippi Delta and points south.
"This year we have had a cold front every week or so, and each one has brought a few birds," says Houston Havens, Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks waterfowl program leader. "This next one may bring some new ducks as well, and to be honest, we are optimistic. I had some reports of hunters seeing lots of new gadwall on some state areas yesterday. That's a good sign that ducks may be moving south ahead of this front."
Mississippi's 2013-2014 waterfowl season overall has been spotty, based on reports from Ducks Unlimited's Migration Map. Havens reports that there were decent early duck concentrations on the Coldwater National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) and the Tallahatchie NWR, and the first major cold front may have moved some of those birds around.
"The season was good during the first split, which it usually is," Havens says. "Harvest numbers tailed off following the second split, but they have picked back up. We had great habitat on our wildlife management areas due to the fact that we pumped and had available food. All of the WMAs in the Delta had good numbers of birds early and it showed."
Slightly lower water levels than last year have left some private hunting areas dry, including many areas that rely on the Mississippi River and its tributaries to flood adjacent agricultural fields. Havens assumes additional precipitation in the forecast will put some water in these fields.
"Overall, the habitat throughout much of the Delta is good," Havens says. "Hunter success has been consistent with years past, and our state areas are producing. That's all we can control at this point, and it's still early."
Although the state's November waterfowl survey was canceled, Havens was able to verify large light goose concentrations throughout much of the north and mid-Delta. The geese were a little later than usual, but showed up in large numbers when they did arrive.
"Our goose numbers are great," he says. "We have a lot of white-fronted geese as well as the normal snows using agricultural fields to feed and rest."
Although increasing goose numbers are a good sign, most Mississippi waterfowlers are continuing to focus on the duck migration, and more importantly the impending icy weather this weekend.
"It's great that we have had these cold fronts early compared to the last few years," Havens says. "But it's still going to take significant and lasting cold weather up north. I tend to get really optimistic when snow and ice shows up in the Missouri forecast. With our food and available habitat, the table is set. Regarding the duck migration, it's not if this year; it's when."